Archaeological Legislation (aka Justice the Shovelbum)

Yes archaeology from a legal standpoint, truly a yawn-inspiring subject but I found some very interesting differences and similarities. The first major difference I noticed is that an archaeologist in the UK is not require to have a license or required to produce a report at the end of a dig. Currently the Institute of Field Archaeologists (IFA) is attempting to get chartered but my professors seem pessimistic that it will happen in MY lifetime.
The second major difference is that everything of value, i.e. pretty treasure or musueum quality artifact (GOLD!!!), belongs to the Queen under ‘Bona Vacantia’ but she never takes ownership and she passes it off to a heritage board which determines which museum gets what. Ironically Scotland is now a nation within a country and the export of artifacts, even for further analysis by experts, is illegal, so if the Queen wants you to pick up some gold artifacts for her make sure she writes you a note first.
Another difference I noticed is the treatment of ‘important’ sites and monuments. In the UK there are three ways to protect a site/monument. The first is to give it ‘Scheduled’ status, which means it is considered ‘nationally important’. The second is to give it ‘Listed’ status (usually given to buildings), which means it has architectural and/or historic importance. The third is to give it Conservation Area status, which seems to be the only way to protect a battlefield, such as Culloden. There is currently no protection for battlefields as there is usually nothing ‘standing’ to protect so it falls through the legal cracks. In Canada (I believe) that Parks Canada simply buys or acquires the land and looks after it (but I don’t really know so please don’t quote me on this).
A similarity I noticed from my time in Canada and the UK is a legal black hole when it comes to the treatment of human remains. Do you study them or rebury them? Do you use a religious ceremony and if so which one? In Canada, there are living relatives for prehistoric bodies that are uncovered so they can advise us on treatment and/or perform the proper reburial rituals if necessary. One thing that seems to unite all archaeologists is the lack of any uniform method for the treatment of human remains. Finding a burial is exciting and often fascinating but inevitably once the press or public is involved it is like hosting a tap-dance recital on thin ice.

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2 Comments on “Archaeological Legislation (aka Justice the Shovelbum)”

  1. Shaun Says:

    Hey Billie

    Just thought I’d drop you a line to say that I enjoy reading your blog, man. We are all in the orifice for a while until some Native issues are ironed out vis a vis Johnson Road. Apparently we require a monitor for our activities there. Is there anything similar in the UK? Likely not.
    Anyway keep writing, it gives me a chance to surf when bored.

    Shaun

  2. Yvonne Says:

    Have you seen this latest piece of legislation though? It’s crazy! http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/mar/02/archaeology

    Two months is a ridiculously short time to allow archaeologists to have access to bones before reburying them. It probably wouldn’t be enough time to get all the paperwork sorted out! Surely even the people who are really keen on reburial would want to allow a longer amount of time than that for archaeologists to be able to study the bones.

    Personally, I want archaeologists to have access to bones, so that we can find out more about our ancestors and how they lived, and by remembering them, honour them.


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